LONDON (AP) – Liz Truss’ resignation as British Prime Minister on Thursday triggered another leadership race – the second in just four months – for the United Kingdom’s (UK) fractured and demoralised Conservative Party.
Truss said her successor will be chosen in a leadership contest to be completed by the end of next week.
Senior Conservative lawmaker who oversees the party’s leadership challenges, Graham Brady said each candidate must secure 100 nominations from legislators to run and that the race will conclude by next Friday.
Former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, ex-Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace are among those considered credible contenders for the top job.
Former prime minister Boris Johnson may also return. Jeremy Hunt, who has been brought in as the new Treasury chief to steer the economy, has ruled out running.
Whoever wins will become the fifth British prime minister in six years.
Here’s a look at the potential runners and riders:
RISHI SUNAK, FORMER TREASURY CHIEF
Sunak, 42, came second to Truss in the last Conservative leadership race, gathering 60,399 votes compared to her 81,326.
He quit as Treasury chief in July, in protest against Johnson’s leadership. In the contest to replace Johnson, Sunak positioned himself as the candidate who tell hard truths about Britain’s public finances. He argued that climbing inflation must be controlled first, and called promises by Truss and other rivals to immediately slash taxes reckless “fairy tales”.
Sunak was proved right when Truss’ unfunded tax-cutting economic stimulus package tanked the British pound and triggered chaos in the markets in September.
Sunak became Treasury chief in 2020 and steered Britain’s slumping economy through the coronavirus pandemic. He oversaw billions of pounds in government handouts to help businesses and workers hard hit by COVID-19.
Sunak was regarded by many as the Conservatives’ brightest rising star.
Born to Indian parents who moved to Britain from East Africa, Sunak attended the exclusive Winchester College private school and studied at Oxford. Some see his elite education and work for the investment bank Goldman Sachs and a hedge fund as a liability because it makes him seem out of touch with ordinary voters.
In the past year, he faced heavy criticism for being slow to respond to Britain’s cost-of-living crisis. His reputation also took a hit after he was fined by police for attending a lockdown-flouting birthday party at Downing Street in June 2020.
Some also criticised him following revelations that his wife, Akshata Murthy, avoided paying taxes on her overseas income.
PENNY MORDAUNT, HOUSE OF COMMONS LEADER
Mordaunt, 49, came third after Sunak and Truss in the last Tory leadership race when she ran with a campaign named ‘PM 4 PM’. Mordaunt did not hold a senior post in Johnson’s Cabinet, and she positioned herself as offering a clean break from his scandal-tainted government.
A former international trade minister, Mordaunt is popular among Conservative lawmakers.
Some believe she could be the right candidate to help heal the party’s divisions. But she is largely an unknown figure to most Britons, and outside Conservative circles, she remains best known for appearing on the 2014 reality TV show Splash!
Mordaunt played a prominent role in the pro-Brexit campaign. She was the first woman to become British defence secretary in 2019 – though she was removed by Johnson after just three months in the post because she had backed another candidate for party leader,
BORIS JOHNSON, FORMER PRIME MINISTER
There was intense speculation on Thursday that Johnson, 58, may return and put himself forward as prime minister again – just weeks after he was forced out of office by a series of ethics scandals. Within hours of Truss’ resignation, several Conservative allies of Johnson’s voiced their support for him to return.
“The only person who has a mandate from the general public is Boris Johnson,” said one lawmaker, Marco Longhi. “He is the only person who can discharge the mandate from the people.”
Johnson led the Conservatives to their biggest win in decades in the 2019 general election, largely on the back of his promise to “get Brexit done”.
But his time in office was overshadowed by scandals over alcohol-fuelled parties held at his official residence while national COVID-19 restrictions were in place. He still faces an ongoing investigation by Parliament’s privileges committee into whether he lied to lawmakers about COVID-rule breaking at Downing Street.
He was forced to announce his resignation on July 7 after former allies in his Cabinet joined a mass exodus of government officials protesting his leadership.